The Nano Age

nanogear

An invisible nanogear. Each dot you see is an atom.

Ready or not, the Nano Age is here.

Nanotechnology is about to touch and transform every facet of our lives with enormous impact and consequence. It is said that our dawning Nano Age will outshine steel, plastic, and the silicon chip as transformative milestones in Earth’s long evolutionary adventure.

NANO means “one-billionth and refers to the increasingly microscopic scale at which our scientists can manipulate matter and energy. 3D printers are a macrocosmic equivalent of the atom-by-atom production of matter that nanoscientists are now perfecting.

The Nano Age will bring us (for better and for worse):

  • microscopic medical robots that roam the bloodstream and kill cancer cells
  • microscopic cleaning robots that roam the atmosphere and eat up pollution
  • insect-sized video surveillance robots that roam the planet and spy on everyone
  • atom-by-atom production of all types of objects — from vehicles to diamonds — using cheap, raw materials
  • bionic ears, eyes, limbs, and brains — yes, bionic brains into which knowledge and memories can be uploaded and downloaded
  • brain-to-machine interfaces that allow thought control of distant objects or electronic devices
  • wireless electricity and self-powering devices for a fully cordless existence
  • retinal displays — your computer screen on a contact lens
  • virtual travel anywhere in the world and eventually the solar system
  • virtual dissection in science labs and medical schools
  • virtual reality addicts — known as Elsewheres on my fictional Nano-Age planet Luratia

The perils of nanotechnology aren’t small. Consider the following:

  • it’s growing rapidly — exponentially, in fact — faster than our understanding of its risks and consequences
  • some nanoparticle products have unintended effects that cannot be easily measured or controlled
  • as with any new technology, we never know the full dangers until after it has been developed and used
  • military applications of nanotechnology could lead to a horrendous arms race of invisible weaponry and surveillance devices
  • cheap, mass-scale molecular manufacturing — building everyday objects atom by atom — could set off economic upheavals locally and globally and collapse entire industries
  • nanotechnology will raise intense privacy issues since every bit and byte of information ever collected about any one thing or person will be accumulated for the purpose of sharing, selling, blackmailing, extorting, and many other nefarious purposes

If you’ve read this far, you may agree that responsible progress is essential to our future. Given our general lack of responsibility, we’re probably going to make a big mess of things.

But at least we’ll have our bionic brains and retinal displays. And sooner or later, we will cure cancer.